Be part of solution to teen drinking

Kimberly's parents began preparing her for driving on her own before she even got her learner's permit. They set good examples for wearing their seatbelts and driving the speed limit.

They took her out for practice drives and talked to her about safety issues and concerns. They even prepared a contract with their expectations and possible consequences should she fail to practice safe driving strategies.

When she finally passed her driving tests, they felt comfortable they had done all they could to assure she would make the right decisions about her driving habits.

About a week after her 16th birthday, she got permission to drive her nearly new car to a party at a friend's house in another area of her high school community. She promised to be home by her curfew.

Her parents felt pretty good about Kimberly's first solo venture at night. What they didn't realize was that she stopped on her way to the party at a convenience store known for selling alcohol without checking for age.

She purchased a 12-pack of beer and then joined the party. There was already a keg set up for the teenage partygoers, but most of it was gone by the time Kimberly got there. She shared her beers with a couple of friends, and downed about four herself during the two hours she was at the party.

When she left, no one questioned her ability to drive. She was not acting "drunk." She wasn't staggering or falling down like some others. She left the party, and about two miles later ran off the road, overcompensated and ran into a tree. She was killed on impact.

This scenario happens every week throughout the country. Underage alcohol use is at an all-time high. Young people have almost unrestricted access to alcohol, both commercially and socially. In Gwinnett, about one-third of places licensed to sell alcohol do not regularly check IDs and have been caught selling alcohol to minors.

A majority of youth report having ready access to alcoholic beverages in their homes or in the homes of their friends. More than half the high school students in Gwinnett report drinking and about 25 percent report binge drinking, or drinking five or more drinks in a row, in the past 30 days.

Underage alcohol use is not a minor problem.

Adults control the access to alcohol. Adults advertise and package it in ways that appeal to youth. They sell it to or buy it for underage drinkers. They provide it to youth at parties and other events.

Many parents who serve alcohol to youth other than their own believe they are in the right because they attempt to judge how impaired their youthful partygoers are before they let them drive home.

However, adults seriously underestimate their own and other adults' impairment after drinking. How can they begin to assess the potential results of youth who are inexperienced drinkers and inexperienced drivers?

From 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, there will be town hall meeting to discuss the problems related to underage alcohol use in Gwinnett and strategies to reduce it.

The meeting is hosted by GUIDE Inc., a community-based substance abuse prevention agency serving Gwinnett County since 1986. The meeting will be held in the commons area of Brookwood High School.

Parents, youth, and concerned others are invited to participate in the discussion.

Think the youth you care about are not drinking? Think again. Underage alcohol use is a community problem, and the community must generate its own solutions. Plan to attend this town hall meeting and be part of developing those solutions.

For more information about underage drinking or the town hall meeting, call Millie Linville at 678-377-4138 or e-mail millie@guideinc.org.

GUIDE is a nonprofit substance abuse prevention agency. For more information, visit GUIDE's Web site at www.guideinc.org, call Ari Russell, executive director, at 678-377-4132 or e-mail ari@guideinc.org.

"People Helping People" is a weekly column written by the executive directors of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County. Today's article was written by Ari Russell of Gwinnett United in Drug Education.

Need help or know someone who does? The Gwinnett Helpline directs callers to the appropriate nonprofit agency. Call 770-995-3339.